A testimony is supposed to tell the story of God's work in your life. If you google "Christian testimony" you will get almost 17 million hits. You'll encounter a page called Christian Testimonies on the official King James Bible online website, or "Amazing Stories, Christian Testimonies, Healing Miracles, and Inspirational Stories" on the 700 Club website. (I'm not linking to that one. Sorry.)
All of them, if the sample I read is representative, tell stories of healing and forgiveness and change. They all come from the perspective of having been through the fire, and come out on the other side in a place of transcendental hope and joy.
"...the Lord took my dad dying, took my worst nightmare and showed me how he can make it into the best thing that's happened to me."
"All the chains that held me captive for so long have been shattered!"
"J. surrendered to God and hasn't touched drugs or alcohol since."
"All I have to do is live and love in the grace God has given me, and I just stand there and let him do what he loves best--and that is make my life perfect."
After I woke up, I kept thinking about this testimony business. I am in such a broken, desperate spiritual place--I definitely don't have a 700 Club-type testimony. I mostly can't worship; I can only grieve. I can barely praise; sometimes it's hard to be thankful. I can only grieve.
I can't sing the words to hymns that proclaim
"I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless; Ills have no weight, tears lose their bitterness.Where is thy sting, death? Where grave thy victory?"
...because I do most definitely feel the "sting" of Aidan's death, and the grave has an excruciating, if temporary, victory.
I especially can't confess, because my only sorrow is the constant presence of Aidan's absence. I can, however, sing the parts that ask God's help: "In life, in death, Lord, abide with me." This is the only part of worship that I can do these days, most of the time.
But maybe we need more testimonies that don't have a happy, feel-good conclusion, in which the believer testifies from the other side of suffering. We need testimonies that come from right in the middle of pain and suffering and inadequacy and sin and despair--because that's where we live.
Even if you're on the other side of your own worst troubles, you are still in this world, and the people around you are suffering; so you must, if you walk with Jesus, feel their sorrow and pain. That should be the place where every testimony begins and ends--rather than beginning with sin and sorrow and ending with the theme song from The Lego Movie.
The wife of a person I know suffered from a dangerous, life-threatening health condition; he was by her side for more than a week, watching the doctors try to diagnose and treat her, watching her sometimes seem like she was getting better, sometimes seem like she was dying.
I emailed him, "You must be exhausted and scared. Hope you get a restful sleep."
He replied: "I'm NOT scared. Why would I be scared? God is in control of space, time, and place. He is in charge; and I and my bride have placed our trust and lives in Him. Because He Lives, I can face tomorrow."
All I can see when I read that are huge flashing red letters: D E N I A L.
It doesn't ring true. If he had said that he did feel fear, but he prayed, and now feels comfort and peace--that would be more believable. But to not even admit the presence, ever, of fear? I'm not buying it. It's definitely not the kind of testimony that buttresses my own feeble faith because it is so far from my own experience.
We need to hear stories from people who are STILL struggling with sin, who are STILL afraid, who are STILL sad, even though they are believers. Trusting in Jesus does not mean we no longer feel normal human emotions like fear and sadness. It doesn't mean we no longer experience the hold of sin on our lives. Rather,the beauty of Jesus is that we are invited to bring these normal human experiences and feelings and struggles to Him, and He will meet us right where we are.
That's my testimony. I mostly can't worship or confess because I don't have it in me. I guess that's Gospel 101. I don't have it in me. But if I do have moments when I can worship, moments of faith or joy or thankfulness, it is very clear to me that those moments come directly from the hand of God. God supplies grace to allow me to cling tenuously to faith and hope; and God provides comfort from other sufferers, other doubters, others who don't have all the answers.